Expected Council Action
In May, the Council is likely to receive a briefing in consultations in accordance with resolution 2132, which increased the force levels of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) soon after conflict erupted in South Sudan on 15 December 2013. It is possible that the Council will adopt a resolution reprioritising and revising the UNMISS mandate, drawing on recommendations in the Secretary-General’s 6 March report (S/2014/158). At press time, an additional briefing was also anticipated on 2 May by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng on their recent trip to South Sudan.
The mandate of UNMISS expires on 15 July.
Key Recent Developments
South Sudan remains mired in civil war, as the 23 January cessation of hostilities between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Opposition continues to be violated. On 15 April, opposition forces seized Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state, after two days of intense fighting that allegedly claimed the lives of 510 government forces. UNMISS rescued 10 international workers from an oil facility approximately 18 miles from Bentiu on 14 April, and five international oil workers have been injured in the recent clashes. On 18 April, government forces alleged that they had repelled an attack in Renk, in oil-rich Upper Nile state.
Following the take-over of Bentiu, the SPLM/A in Opposition killed more than 400 civilians. Many of those who lost their lives were non-Nuer civilians who had taken refuge in the town’s Kali-Ballee mosque and in a Catholic church. In addition, Nuer civilians hiding at Bentiu hospital were reportedly massacred for not cheering the opposition forces when they entered Bentiu. There were also reports of hate speech being broadcast on Radio Bentiu FM by some SPLM/A in Opposition commanders.
On 17 April, youth who were mainly from the Dinka-Bor group attacked a UN site in Bor protecting more than 5,000 people, mainly Nuer. At least 58 people were killed, and scores were wounded before UNMISS repelled the attack. Two UN peacekeepers were wounded during the incident.
The Council issued a press statement on 18 April expressing outrage at the attacks on civilians in Bentiu and on the UN base in Bor (SC/11359). It further underscored that “attacks on civilians and United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime”.
In his March UNMISS report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested that the surge capacity of the mission—which raised the ceiling of troops and police to 12,500 and 1,323, respectively—be kept in place for at least an additional year. On 3 April, the Secretary-General submitted a letter to the Council indicating that the cost of doing so during 2015 could be $223 million. Before concurring with this proposal, it appears that one Council member has requested more information on the concept of force generation, the capacities of potential new forces, and their precise functions.
On 10 April, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefed the Council in consultations on UNMISS. Ladsous said that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was in discussions with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regarding options for collaboration between the IGAD Protection and Deterrence Force (PDF) and UNMISS.
On 23 April, the Council was briefed again in consultations on the situation in South Sudan by Ladsous and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović. The briefing focused on recent developments in Bor and Bentiu. On the following day, the Council issued a press statement in which it “expressed horror and anger at the mass violence in Bentiu” and reiterated its strong condemnation of the attack in Bor against the UNMISS base (SC/11363). The statement also requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to launch an investigation on the events in Bentiu, while requesting Simonovic to return to South Sudan “as soon as possible to assess recent developments and report back to the Security Council.”
On 23 April, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan dismissed Army Chief of Staff James Hoth Mai and Head of Military Intelligence Mac Paul Kuol, both Nuers, and replaced them with Dinka appointees.
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan also remains dire. More than a million people have been uprooted since the fighting began, including more than 815,000 internally displaced people and 270,000 refugees who left for neighbouring countries, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict. Over 78,000 civilians remain protected in UN facilities throughout the country. With the onset of the rainy season, there have been concerns that water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid could break out at UN camps, notably in Juba (Tomping camp) and Malakal. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS Hilde Johnson announced during a press conference on 3 April that Tomping, where latrines overflowed after heavy rainfall in March, would be closed in May.
On 9 April, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a statement accusing UNMISS leaders of showing an “indifference” to vulnerable displaced populations and asserting that “diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections and skin diseases account for more than 60 percent of the cases” in Tomping. The statement added that Tomping should be expanded to dry sections of the UN facility immediately and that despite the expected closure of the camp in May, UNMISS will have difficulty moving the roughly 20,000 people before the onset of the rainy season. In consultations on 10 April, Ladsous expressed disappointment with the MSF accusations against UNMISS, stating that the mission was doing its utmost to protect civilians.
Food insecurity has reached crisis proportions in South Sudan. In addition to the large-scale displacement, the conflict has prevented people from planting crops and constrained humanitarian access. In his March UNMISS report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 3.7 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity. On 16 April, he warned that famine is a possibility for up to one million people in South Sudan in “a matter of months” unless steps are taken to avert it.
The UN, the EU and the US released a joint “Call for Action on South Sudan” on 12 April calling for an end to the fighting and the parties to adhere to international humanitarian law and urging donors and states to provide $232 million to fund critical aid operations during the next three months. (On 3 April, OCHA reported that an additional $232 million for the South Sudan Crisis Response Plan for January-June was “the bare minimum to prevent the situation from deteriorating sharply”.)
On 11 April, IGAD issued a communiqué announcing that its teams responsible for monitoring and verifying the 23 January cessation of hostilities had commenced work. According to the communiqué, a first team was deployed to Bor on 1 April, followed by a similar deployment in Bentiu on 5 April, while deployment to other locations was also being planned.
On 28 April, the IGAD-led peace talks resumed in Addis Ababa, following an adjournment of several weeks and scant progress to date. However, one positive sign is that South Sudan released four key political figures on 25 April who had been on trial for treason, meeting a key demand of the SPLM/A in Opposition. South Sudan said that it had released these individuals, who were accused of taking part in an alleged coup against Kiir in December 2013, “to promote peace and reconciliation.”
Pillay and Dieng arrived in South Sudan on 28 April, where they met with Kiir, other government officials and opposition leader Riek Machar. At press time, they were expected to conclude their trip on 30 April.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 28 March, the Human Rights Council adopted a presidential statement in which it expressed deep concern at the human rights situation resulting from the crisis and violence that broke out on 15 December 2013 in South Sudan. It called upon the parties to the conflict to put an end to all violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including attacks against and killings of civilians and the mass displacement of populations. It also called upon the government of South Sudan to cooperate fully with the UN Mission in South Sudan (A/HRC/PRST/25/2).
Several key and interrelated issues are relevant to a potential new resolution on UNMISS, including:
- what tasks the mission will be mandated to achieve;
- what role the PDF will play in relation to UNMISS; and
- how additional forces will be generated to maintain a troop/police surge.
A key increasingly pressing issue for the Council is how to address the inter-ethnic component of the violence.
Another important issue is what role the Council can play in supporting the IGAD-led mediation process in Addis Ababa.
An additional key issue is how the Council can contribute to international efforts to prevent the humanitarian situation in South Sudan from deteriorating further.
One option would be to streamline the mandate of UNMISS to focus specifically on:
- protecting civilians;
- facilitating humanitarian access;
- enhancing human rights monitoring and reporting;
- supporting inter-communal and national dialogue; and
- supporting IGAD’s monitoring and verification activities.
The Council, in collaboration with IGAD, might either decide to incorporate the PDF into UNMISS or alternatively, if the PDF becomes a stand-alone force, develop mechanisms to ensure close coordination between UNMISS and the PDF and work toward mutually reinforcing goals.
Options for the Council (and IGAD) regarding the potential activities of the PDF, include:
- providing protection for the IGAD monitoring and verification teams;
- assisting UNMISS in providing security in and around UN facilities protecting civilians; and
- supporting UNMISS patrols.
Options related to the increased ethnically-based violence, in line with resolution 2150 calling on states “to recommit to prevent and fight against genocide, and other serious crimes under international law” and underscoring “the importance of taking into account lessons learned from the 1994 [Rwandan] Genocide”, include:
- imposing targeted sanctions against spoilers to the peace process, particular those who have committed egregious human rights violations;
- requesting a briefing from Dieng and Jennifer Welsh, the Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect, on the recent violence in South Sudan;
- calling for a fact-finding mission to investigate the atrocities committed in Bentiu and Bor;
- scheduling a Council visiting mission;
- making a special request to member states to provide additional troops to UNMISS to help it meet the anticipated increased troop ceiling; and
- appealing to member states to support the South Sudan Crisis Response Plan, which is underfunded.
There is widespread concern on the Council about the political, security and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. The inter-ethnic dimension of the conflict is particularly alarming to Council members. There had been some discussion in recent months that UNMISS would continue to perform some statebuilding and peacebuilding activities in non-conflict areas of South Sudan. However, it seems that most Council members believe that UNMISS should focus on a narrower set of core tasks (e.g., protecting civilians, facilitating the provision of humanitarian access and monitoring and reporting on human rights) given the severity of the security and humanitarian situation, the limited resources of the mission and the implications of supporting a state whose armed forces are committing significant human rights violations. It also appears that several Council members are considering the idea of imposing targeted sanctions on those in South Sudan who are committing serious human rights violations and/or obstructing the peace process.
The US is the penholder on South Sudan.
Additional Useful Resource
South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name, Africa Report No. 21, International Crisis Group, 10 April 2014.
UN Documents on South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|24 December 2013 S/RES/2132||This was the resolution that increased the military and police capacity of UNMISS.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|18 March 2014 S/PV.7141||This meeting concerned the report of the Secretary-General on UNMISS.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|24 April 2014 SC/11363||This was on the attacks on Bor and Bentiu.|
|18 April 2014 SC/11359||This was on the attack on the UN base in Bor.|
|6 March 2014 S/2014/158||
This was on UNMISS.